by Lydia H. Hoyle
In most churches, much of the youth-focused energy is spent trying to entice and amuse Generation Y youth. Even that isn’t easy.
Most youth have a plethora of other, more entertaining options, many that don’t even require them to walk out their front doors. Youth ministers feel pushed to create and promote exciting activities that revolve around the youth, providing opportunities for recreation, social interaction and a bit of nurture in the faith.
Sometimes, though, churches so want to capture the youth’s attention with programs and promises that they fail to capture their imagination and their dreams for the future. They try to compete for teenage free time but offer little to inspire meaningful service or a sense of purpose.
As a result, both the church and those searching for their place in the kingdom of God are cheated. If we are to have a vibrant church in the days to come, we need to create congregational and denominational cultures in which people, young and old, can hear and respond to God’s call.
Rhonda Gailes, a minister to youth and college students, draws college students into every ministry in her church, refusing to allow the students to simply be ministered to. It was inspiring to hear the testimony of one such student whose call had been nurtured by Rhonda and who was now attending divinity school in preparation for vocational service to the church.
Through my involvement in these programs, it has become clear to me that churches and denominations need a maintainable structure, a “culture of calling,” rather than an occasional emphasis on it.
Children and youth need to see ministers who embody the richness of a life committed to service to God and the church.
Ministers in both congregational and collegiate settings need to be about the constant work of noticing, naming and nurturing those they believe may be called to ministry.
Denominations and publishers need to provide, promote and update materials and conferences that make it possible for busy lay leaders to initiate conversations about vocation with youth.
And divinity schools need to train and inspire ministers to honor their own calling by seeking to see it multiplied in others.
This is a good work that requires intentionality. The future of the church may rest, in part, on our commitment to see it through.
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Lydia H. Hoyle is an associate professor of church history and Baptist heritage at Campbell University Divinity School, Buies Creek, N.C. Prior to arriving at Campbell in 2003, she was a religion professor at Georgetown College, Georgetown, Ky. Her research interests and publications have included work in the areas of women and missions, children and mission education, Baptist history and women in ministry. She is working on a study of Baptists and children.